Does Improving Marital Quality Improve Sleep?

Results from a Marital Therapy Trial

Published in: Behavioral Sleep Medicine, Volume 15, Issue 4, pages 330-343. doi: 10.1080/15402002.2015.1133420

Posted on RAND.org on April 29, 2016

by Wendy M. Troxel, Scott R. Braithwaite, Jonathan G. Sandberg, Julianne Holt-Lunstad

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Research Question

  1. What is the link between sleep quality and relationship quality among a sample of treatment-seeking, distressed married couples compared with a non-treatment-seeking comparison group?

For most adults, sleep is a dyadic behavior. Only recently have studies explored the dynamic association between sleep and relationship functioning among bed partners. The current study is the first to examine bidirectional associations between changes in insomnia and changes in marital quality over time, in the context of a marital therapy trial. Among husbands, improvements in marital satisfaction were associated with a 36% decreased risk of insomnia at follow-up. Regarding the reverse direction, counter-intuitively, wife baseline insomnia was associated with improvements in husbands’ marital satisfaction, but only among the non-treatment-seeking comparison group. Results are discussed in terms of implications for sleep and marital therapy, and suggest that improving sleep may be an added benefit of improving the marital relationship.

Key Findings

  • For both men and women, higher initial levels of psychological abuse and increases in psychological abuse over time predicted greater sleep problems at the three-year follow-up.
  • Among husbands, improvements in marital satisfaction were associated with a 36% decreased risk of insomnia at follow-up.
  • There was no corresponding effect for women, suggesting that their sleep is more responsive to marital distress.
  • Insomnia did not predict changes in marital satisfaction.

Research conducted by

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